Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jesse James: Riding Hell-Bent for Leather into Legend

Amnesty?

As the Confederate Cause began to fizzle in the major arena of the geographic South Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia desperately on the run from conquering Ulysses S. Grant's surplus Union troops charged westward to squelch the last of the territorial border ruffians refusing to sheath their secessionist swords. When the pursuers couldn't find the rebels themselves, hiding in the hills, they did the next best thing raided their family's homesteads in an effort to metaphorically smoke them from their hiding places. Because of the reputation earned by Frank and "Dingus" James, the Yankee cavalry once again singled out their family farm near Kearney, chasing the Samuels out of the territory and destroying their property. Rueben and Zerelda, along with their children, escaped with their lives to southern Nebraska.

Jesse and brother Frank arrived back at the ruined farm to hear from neighbors of their family's plight, but had no time to seek them out. Cavalry scoured the hills, still looking for remnants of Quantrill's guerrillas who, at this point, were still considered mere outlaws and whose fate was, if apprehended, the rope. When the war finally ended with the surrender of General Lee at Appomattox, Virginia, President Lncoln offered all Southern fighters a chance to return to the Union as forgiven brethren; a general amnesty was allowed. But, to officially consign to the agreement, rebels in southern Missouri had to travel to the city of Liberty and take a formal oath. Tired of being hunted and knowing if they didn't surrender they would never see their mother again the James boys lit out for Liberty. They were accompanied by Cole Younger and other former Raiders who also longed to reunite with their kin.

Jesse James as a member of Quantrill's raiders, 1864.
Jesse James as a member of Quantrill's raiders, 1864.

History, which often seems to be nothing more than fate after fate, intervened. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in Washington by a zealot Southern actor and, enraged, renegade Union soldiers in Missouri plotted to get even despite the country's promise of acceptance. A patrol waited outside Liberty to fell Quantrill's strays roaming to peace bond. Jesse took a .36 calibre slug in the left rib cage, dangerously close to the heart.

A local farmer helped Frank transport his wounded brother to Nebraska, where they located the Samuels. Jesse, figuring he was dying, begged his mother not to let him breathe his last on Northern soil. The family cautiously moved the boy in his weakened condition back across the border to Harlem, Missouri, to the home of Zee's brother, John Mimms. There, he was bedded and cared for.

First cousin Zerelda Mimms, who was named after her Aunt Zee, was most responsible for nursing Jesse back to health. Refusing to accept fate, she remained by Dr. Samuels' side as he operated on his step-son and tirelessly sat vigil at his bedside around the clock. When he recovered, Jesse realized her tender care had pulled him through and, although a close blood relative, fell in love with the 19-year-old dark-haired beauty. They would continue to see each other and eventually marry.

But, first, Jesse had some reckoning to attend to. 

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